U.S. Navy Band performs, holds workshops at Wheeling High School

U.S. Navy Band performs, holds workshops at Wheeling High School

  • The U.S. Navy Band recently performed at Wheeling High School. The 65-piece concert band included woodwinds, brass, percussion, as well as a piano, stand-up bass, a harp and two vocalists.

    The U.S. Navy Band recently performed at Wheeling High School. The 65-piece concert band included woodwinds, brass, percussion, as well as a piano, stand-up bass, a harp and two vocalists. Courtesy of District 214

 
Posted5/18/2022 6:00 AM

The Naval Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (NJROTC) at Wheeling High School and its performing arts programs rarely intersect. But last month, when the U.S. Navy Band reached out to area programs, the stars aligned.

"It fell into our lap," says Mike Malek, band director at Wheeling High School, "but it turned out to be an amazing day after an incredibly challenging year in education."

 
Wheeling High School is home to the NJROTC leadership program in Northwest Suburban High School District 214, and all six of its high schools have students participating.
Wheeling High School is home to the NJROTC leadership program in Northwest Suburban High School District 214, and all six of its high schools have students participating. - Courtesy of District 214

Wheeling High School is home to the NJROTC leadership program for Northwest Suburban High School District 214, and all six of its high schools have students participating. As it happened, the U.S. Navy Band was on a national tour as a way to connect local communities with the Navy. Reaching out to one of its NJROTC programs was a natural.

"This was the top Navy band," says Sarah Struebing, orchestra director at Wheeling. "They play at the White House and for all the inaugurations. It was just an awesome opportunity."

More than just presenting a concert, the music teachers at Wheeling worked to make an educational experience out of it. For starters, they worked with their band, orchestra and choral students to prepare for the visit.

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The U.S. Navy Band's performance at Wheeling High School ran the gamut, from a Sousa march, jazz, to popular selections such as "Mambo" from "West Side Story," "Defying Gravity" from "Wicked," and a medley from the "Star Wars" films.
The U.S. Navy Band's performance at Wheeling High School ran the gamut, from a Sousa march, jazz, to popular selections such as "Mambo" from "West Side Story," "Defying Gravity" from "Wicked," and a medley from the "Star Wars" films. - Courtesy of District 214

They also invited young musicians from their feeder schools to attend, including students from Holmes, London and MacArthur middle schools, and local veterans. In the end, they drew an audience of 800 to the performance.

By all accounts, the 65-piece concert band lived up to its billing. It included woodwinds, brass, percussion, as well as a piano, stand-up bass, a harp and two vocalists.

"The students marveled at their professionalism and the quality of sound," said Ed Jacobi, former band director at Buffalo Grove High School, who attended as a substitute teacher. "It gave them a real-life opportunity to experience how something like this is achievable."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
The U.S. Navy Band drew an audience of 800 to its recent performance at Wheeling High School.
The U.S. Navy Band drew an audience of 800 to its recent performance at Wheeling High School. - Courtesy of District 214

Their concert ran the gamut, from a Sousa march, jazz, to popular selections such as "Mambo" from "West Side Story," "Defying Gravity" from "Wicked," and a medley from the "Star Wars" films.

Their day at Wheeling also included a master clinic with students. They broke out into sections and were able to speak to these talented musicians. Their questions ranged from practice techniques and their individual backgrounds to their performance schedule.

Ed Jacobi, former band director at Buffalo Grove High School, with Amy Eich, who plays clarinet in the U.S. Navy Band. Eich played in the Buffalo Grove band program 15 years ago.
Ed Jacobi, former band director at Buffalo Grove High School, with Amy Eich, who plays clarinet in the U.S. Navy Band. Eich played in the Buffalo Grove band program 15 years ago. - Courtesy of Ed Jacobi

The day gave Jacobi a chance to reunite with one of his former students. Amy Eich played in the Buffalo Grove band program 15 years ago and she now plays clarinet in the Navy band.

"I did not realize she was playing in this band, and obviously she did not know I would be there," Jacobi said. "It was a wonderful, and brief, reunion."

Another reunion took place when Malek reconnected with his college roommate, Jonathan Yanik, from the University of Indiana. Yanik plays alto saxophone and is section leader, after he earned his doctorate in music performance from the University of Michigan.

Mostly, the Wheeling teachers wanted their students to see a standard of excellence that is possible with a passion for music and a commitment to practicing.

The U.S. Navy Band's visit to Wheeling High School included a master clinic and Q&A session.
The U.S. Navy Band's visit to Wheeling High School included a master clinic and Q&A session. - Courtesy of District 214

In talking to his students afterward, Malek drew from one of the Navy band members who summed it up this way: "Play fearlessly, practice music that you cannot play as much as music that you can play, and put yourself in an atmosphere of excellence by trying to find people that are better than you to play with."

"The whole day was an opportunity for our community in Wheeling to receive an inspirational visit," Malek said.

His colleague, Struebing, agreed.

"The degree of excellence was so apparent in their music, and for them to come to our school was really incredible."

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